Small Shelter: Living in a Tiny House

Thinking big, living small. More people are rejecting the familiar trappings of society and voluntarily down size

Escapers contributor Swetha L dissects a paper on the tiny house movement and the motivations behind its growth. We recently looked over the rise in digital nomads. This time it’s something a little different.

Dreaming big and living small: Examining motivations and satisfaction in tiny house living by Lauren M Boeckermann, Andrew T Kaczynski, Sarah B King

Section 1 – Introduction

The impetus for the shift towards tiny houses comes from three essential factors:

  • The average housing cost, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 9 times when compared to 1970s while the real incomes of people have remain unchanged
  • The average size of the household has increased from 1660 sq.ft in 1973to 2596 sq.ft in 2013 while the average size of the family has declined from 3.67 members in 1940 to 2.62 members in 2005. This means that the average square foot of housing per person has increased from 290 sq.ft in 1950 to 893 sq.ft in 2003
  • The environmental impact of urbanisation has increased by 50% as low density sub urban growth took place. There is increased need for energy and the storm water runoff has also increased due to increased use of concrete.

As a result of these factors, some people have begun to evaluate their needs and considered living in time homes.

apartment block
Housing costs are rising and good accommodation is at a premium

There are several factors associated with housing satisfaction. The following list of factors have been found to have a positive influence on the housing satisfaction of the residents.

Increase in housing cost and percentage share of income spent on housing.

Length of residence.

Adequacy of housing size, surrounding environment and green space.

Ownership of the house.

Housing satisfaction is in turn related to the life satisfaction and happiness of individuals.

The Tiny House movement is getting stronger

The tiny house movement began in 2002 and gained momentum with the establishment of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and Small House Society. These societies aimed to provide high quality living spaces to individuals who wanted to intentionally reduce the size of their homes.

There is no standard measure for a tiny home and they generally ranged between 70 sq.ft to 300 sq.ft. The cost and complexity of the tiny house varied while all included space for sleeping, bathing, storage and cooking.

The kinds of people who chose to live in tiny houses were diverse. Research has been able to identify several niche populations such as students, retired seniors and young adults as choosing to live in tiny houses.

Some wealthy individuals who strongly believe in downsizing also choose to live in tiny homes. Several organisations are using transportable small homes for sheltering the homeless in Wisconsin and Oregon.

The reasons for choosing tiny living are also diverse. A study by Mutter (2013) has identified 6 important motivations.

Tiny houses may have their appeal, but they’re not the right fit for everyone. There are a few things to consider before plunging into such a small space.

Hillary Hoffower, Business Insider

Leading a simpler life: Reduce consumerist culture that is typical of American society.

Reduce environmental impact: Decrease carbon footprint by using recycled materials, alternative sources of energy, collection of rain water and so on.

Cost: Enable people to own houses at relatively low costs.

Flexibility and freedom: People can move their houses where ever they want to.

Sense of community.

Customisation potential.

shopping consumption
More people are re evaluating their consumption lifestyles

Tiny House Research Question

To examine the motivations of people to live in tiny houses using quantitative measures on a large sample.

To test the relationship between motivations and the satisfaction derived from living tiny after accounting for factors like size, cost, duration and so on.

To identify population who are more willing to live in tiny homes.

To find the key factors behind the growing trend of tiny houses.

Research Paper Method

The Tiny House Community Survey was developed for the purpose of this study with 57 items divided into four parts.

Demographic details- age, race and ethnicity, education and annual household income.

House characteristics- size, current living arrangement, length of residence, cost, ownership and mobility of the house.

Motivations- simplicity, sustainability and environmental factors, cost, freedom and mobility, sense of community, interest in design and empowerment were measured on a 5 point scale.

Satisfaction captured using a 5 point scale.

These factors were dichotomized to run a logistic regression.

sustainable growing
Sustainability is a concern

Section 2 – Sample Evidence

64 respondents from USA (61), New Zealand (1), Canada (1), Australia (1).

Permitted for only one response per household to ensure diversity of the sample.

Not restricted to a particular country.

Data Collection

Social Media posts on Facebook to reach out to community pages of tiny home dwellers.

Outreach to blogs related to tiny living and minimalism to reach potential tiny home dwellers.

Instagram page on tiny house community survey to directly reach out to tiny home dwellers.

Participants given a chance to win either one of the two gift cards for their participation in the survey.

Data Analysis

Logistic regression to find association between motivations for living in tiny houses with housing satisfaction after accounting for other house and individual characteristics.

Research Results

Demographic characteristics.

Sex: Female (78%), Male (20%).

Age: Young (59%), Old (41%).

Race: White (96%), Biracial (4%) – Hispanic (9%), Non-Hispanic (91%).

Education: 2 year degree or less (41%) 4 year degree or more (60%).

Income: $59999 or less (59%), $60000 or more (41%).

Section 3 – Tiny House Characteristics

Size: up to 199 sq.ft (32%), 200 to 799 sq.ft (68%).

Ownership: Owned (71%), not owned (29%).

Length of residence: less than a year (49%), more than a year (51%).

Mobility: Yes (89%), no (11%).

Residents: Single (45%), Partner (33%), Family (22%).

Total Cost: $39999 or less (53%), $40000 or more (47%).

Motivations: Cost, Simplicity and Freedom were the top motivations

Cost: High (72%), Low (28%).

Simplicity: High (66%), Low (34%).

Freedom and mobility: High (52%), Low (48%).

Environmental Impact: High (50%) Low (50%).

Interest in Design: High (37%), Low (63%).

Empowerment: High (24%), Low (76%).

Sense of Community: High (22%), Low (78%).

Bivariate Relationships

Unadjusted odds ratio showed that individuals who were highly motivated by simplicity for adopt tiny living were more likely to be satisfied with their housing status. Other motivations were found to be insignificant.

Adjusted odds ratio estimated after accounting for other influencing variables showed that the desire to live life in a simple manner was the only factor associated with tiny house satisfaction.

Age was the only demographic measure associated with satisfaction as older people were more likely to be satisfied than younger people with tiny houses. Other demographic and house related characteristics were found to be insignificant.

tiny house shacks
Having a nice view is always a bonus

Section 3 – Tiny House Discussion Points and Concluding Remarks

A simplified lifestyle was found to be the only significant motivation for housing satisfaction for individuals who lived in tiny houses. The possible reason for this significance is because of the fact that a small house constraints an individual from buying more things.

They will have to restrict themselves with the basic of possessions. This would also mean decreased expenses focusing on gaining experiences not consumerist goods. The results of this study are consistent with the other studies which have found that residents take into consideration the fit between their self-congruity and the perceived image of the house along with the functional aspects of the house.

Though other studies  have shown that satisfaction is associated with the demographic characteristics but this study found age to be the only significant variable.

Tiny House Limitations for Rat Race escapers

Sample homogeneity reducing the generalizability of the results.

Sample restricted to those who engage in the online community.

Cross-sectional design can only help identify associations and not causal relationships.

senior citizens
This lifestyle attracts both young and old – Senior Safety Advice

Tiny House Living Conclusions

Limited literature in the area though it is of growing concern.

Study helps understand the reason for people’s choice to downsize.

Providing information and awareness is required to overcome the challenges of lack of information, legal concerns and financing opportunities.

Desire for simplicity is the key factor for satisfaction in living in a tiny house.

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